Is there a split in the GOP? Look no further than the primaries in Utah County
Red, white and blue balloons and American flags were scattered around the conference room at the Hyatt Place in Lehi where Chris Herrod awaited the results of the Utah primaries.
Herrod has prided himself on being an ultra-conservative, aligning with politicians like former President Donald Trump, Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX.
“I am what I consider a platform Republican,” Herrod said. “... [I’m] more in line for kind of not the establishment type of people, but just regular people, because I really do believe that we're a place in our nation's history where, you know, we have a left-right divide. But I think we have a kind of an elite-non-elite divide.”
About 30% to 40% of Utahns identify themselves with strongly conservative politics, according to political scientist and Brigham Young University professor emeritus David Magleby.
This ideological divide is not new but has been more prevalent in recent years, he said, as some politicians like Herrod align themselves with Trump’s brand of Republicanism.
While incumbent congressman John Curtis dominated the primary with 71.16% of the vote, Magleby said other races, like Utah County Attorney, show the hard right turn the party is taking.
“The very conservative wing of the Republican Party dominates Utah County politics,” he said. “I think that's one reason that they especially didn't want [incumbent Utah county attorney] David Leavitt to be reelected because he was not part of that group.”
Leavitt was one of the few attorney prosecutors who attempted to repeal the death penalty in this general legislative session.“He was willing to take positions that some [other Republicans] found uncomfortable. And it was a pretty nasty campaign. Utah politics is not as nasty as a lot of other states I’ve studied, but this county in 2022 had a pretty nasty campaign. There's no way to describe it otherwise,” Magleby said.
Leavitt was pushed out by his challenger Jeff Gray who won 73.08% of the vote to Leavitt’s 26.92%.
Magleby said this is the intense kind of politics driven by a more conservative ideology. But for the most part, he saw statewide politics play out as usual in the primary.
“Which is to say that this faction can make a lot of noise, can force a primary and can raise negative issues about the more moderate Republicans, calling them –– as Donald Trump would –– a ‘Republican in name only’ because they weren't conservative enough, but that the voters who turn out in the primary are more moderate,” he said. “And therefore, a John Curtis is able to secure a renomination.”
Curtis said he was “very grateful for all my supporters and looking forward to another run” on election night, but he has yet to pass the final hurdle. He will face off Democrat Glenn Wright in November.
Magleby suspects Utah’s congressional races will have similar outcomes in the general election, with incumbents safe in their seats. But he said the split to watch out for will be in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Mike Lee and unaffiliated challenger Evan McMullin.